Passive Voice in Spanish (‘ser + past participle’ construction)
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Passive Voice in Spanish (‘ser + past participle’ construction)

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In this article, we will run you through the Spanish passive voice. Hang tight and let's go!

What is the passive voice?

First of all, it’s important to remember that the passive is a voice, not a tense. The passive construction we’re looking at today is ‘ser’ + past participle.

When we’re forming phrases in Spanish, we can use the active voice, where the subject performs an action upon an object, like ‘A hugged B.’ Or we can turn it around and use what we call the passive voice. 


The recipient of the action then becomes the subject. All that means is that the focus will be on B, and what happened to him/her/it. ‘B was hugged.’ If we want to, we can also add who did it: ‘B was hugged (by A).’

It can also help to look at it like this: imagine you went out last night and lost your mother’s expensive watch, and now you’re telling her. You want to keep the focus on the watch’s whereabouts, not on the fact that it was you who lost it!

You might not want to say, ‘Perdí tu reloj anoche.’ (‘I lost your watch last night.’). It’s safer to say, ‘Tu reloj fue perdido anoche.’ (‘Your watch got lost last night.’). That way, the focus is on the watch and not on you.

Sometimes it’s best avoided …

Although ‘ser’ + past participle can be a useful construction, using the passive voice in this way is much less common in Spanish than it is in English. In fact, your Spanish will often sound more natural if you avoid it.

Let’s look at an example of someone getting arrested. We can avoid the passive voice by using the ‘se pasiva,’ (‘se detuvo a Raúl’), the impersonal third person plural construction (‘detuvieron a Raúl’), or by keeping it active (‘la policía detuvo a Raúl.).

‘Ser’ + past participle

When we can’t avoid it, we use the passive voice by conjugating the verb ‘ser’ and adding a past participle. Let’s look at some examples in various tenses.

El primer acto siempre es seguido por el segundo acto.The first act is always followed by the second act.
Millie fue encontrada en el restaurante. Millie was found in the restaurant.
Durante su enfermedad, el gato era examinado cada día por la veterinaria.During his illness, the cat was examined every day by the vet.
La obra será grabada.The performance will be recorded.
En aquel zoo, los animales serían maltratados.In that zoo, the animals would get mistreated.

‘Ser’

Now let’s look at forming the verb ‘ser’ in more detail. We’re going to give you the conjugations for the present, preterite, imperfect, future, and conditional tenses.

That way you’re ready for anything, although ‘ser’ + past participle isn’t actually used much with the present or imperfect!

Present:

soysomos
eressois
esson

Preterite:

fuifuimos
fuistefuisteis
fuefueron

Imperfect:

eraéramos
eraserais
eraeran

Future:

seréseremos
serásseréis
seráserán

Conditional:

seríaseríamos
seríasseríais
seríaserían

Top tip

You could replace ‘ser’ with ‘estar’ and end up with a subtly different sentence: ‘la comida es hecha’ refers to the action of the meal being made, whereas ‘la comida está hecha de …’ refers to the state of the meal (i.e. it’s made of …).

Past participles

Right, once you’ve conjugated ‘ser’ in the appropriate tense and person, you’ll need to add the past participle. A past participle is a part of a verb. The end of the past participle (usually ‘-ado’ or ‘-ido’) roughly translates as ‘-ed.’ 

(Not only do we use past participles in the passive voice, we also use them in the perfect tense and the pluperfect tense, and even to form some adjectives.)

For ‘-ar’ verbs:

Remove the ‘-ar’ from the infinitive, and replace it with ‘-ado.’

Hablar - Habl- - Hablado

For ‘-er’ verbs:

Remove the ‘-er’ from the infinitive, and replace it with ‘-ido.’

Comer - Com- - Comido

For ‘-ir’ verbs:

Remove the ‘-ir’ from the infinitive, and replace it with ‘-ido.’ (Exactly the same as for ‘-er’ verbs!)

Vivir - Viv- - Vivido

Past participles: irregulars

Let’s be honest, this wouldn’t be a Spanish lesson without some exceptions to the rule, would it? Not all past participles are formed by the rules we saw above. Here are some of the most common irregulars:

abrir (to open)abierto (opened)
cubrir (to cover)cubierto (covered)
decir (to say)dicho (said)
escribir (to write)escrito (written)
hacer (to do/to make)hecho (done/made)
poner (to put)puesto (put)
resolver (to solve)resuelto (solved)
romper (to break)roto (broken)
satisfacer (to satisfy)satisfecho (satisfied)
ver (to see)visto (seen)
volver (to return)vuelto (returned)

Sometimes you’ll find patterns where words have the same endings, for example:

decir (to say)dicho (said)
predecir (to predict)predicho (predicted)
maldecir (to curse)maldicho (cursed)

Let’s agree to agree

When using the passive voice, you need to make sure that the past participle agrees with the subject (the noun that’s having something done to it). 

That means making sure you pick the correct ending:

  • -o’ for masculine singular nouns.
  • ‘-a’ for feminine singular nouns.
  • -os’ for masculine plural nouns.
  • -as’ for feminine plural nouns.

For example:

El libro fue escrito por Bella.The book was written by Bella.
La obra fue realizada en el teatro.The play was performed at the theater.
Los libros fueron destruidos en el fuego.The books were destroyed in the fire.
Las obras fueron realizadas por actores profesionales.The plays were performed by professional actors.

‘Por’

If you want to identify the agent (i.e. say who’s doing the action), you can use the word ‘por,’ which in this case means ‘by.’ Here are some examples:

El primer episodio es seguido por el segundo.The first episode is followed by the second.
Fui engañada por un estafador.I was fooled by a fraudster.
La casa fue diseñada por Gaudí.The house was designed by Gaudí.

Example time!

Now that you know how to form the ‘ser’ + past participle construction, let’s check out some examples before testing your knowledge.

El dinero es contado cada día.The money is counted every day.
Los libros fueron vendidos.The books were sold.
De pequeño, era mimado mucho.When I was little, I was spoiled a lot.
Llama a la policía. ¡Las joyas han sido robadas!Call the police. The jewels have been stolen!
Mi dijo que si no le mandara dinero, las fotos comprometedoras serían publicadas.He said that if I didn’t send him money, the compromising photos would be published.
El avión sería pilotado por dos pilotos experimentados.The plane would be flown by two experienced pilots.

Quiz

Let’s see how much you’ve taken in. If you struggle, that’s okay, just scroll back up through the lesson!

 1. Tu progeso _ _ por tu jefe. (Your progress is monitored by your boss.)

    a. es monitorizado

    b. fue monitorizado

    c. es monitorizar

Click to reveal the correct answer:

a. es monitorizado

 2. ¿_ _ por Ed o por Ned? (Were you hit by Ed or by Ned?)

    a. Fui golpeado

    b. Fuiste golpeaste

    c. Fuiste golpeado

Click to reveal the correct answer:

c. Fuiste golpeado

 3. El poema _ _ por mí. (The poem was written by me.)

    a. fueron escrito

    b. fue escrito

    c. fue escribido

Click to reveal the correct answer:

b. fue escrito

 4. Es tesoro _ _ _ en este parque. Tienes que encontrarlo. (The treasure has been hidden in this park. You have to find it.)

    a. ha sido escondido

    b. ha sido esconder

    c. haya sido escondido

Click to reveal the correct answer:

a. ha sido escondido

 5.  La verdad _ _. (The truth was exposed.)

    a. fue expuesto

    b. fue expuesta

    c. fue exponida

Click to reveal the correct answer:

b. fue expuesta

¡Este artículo ha sido leído por ti! (This article has been read by you!)

Practice with ‘ser’ and with past participles separately if you need to. The more you practice, the more naturally the construction will come together.

About the Author Annabel Beilby

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

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